The Look of Love
There is a story about St. Jean Vianney. He once asked an old farmer what he did in the church looking at the tabernacle. The man responded, "Nothing, I look at Him, and He looks at me."
Do we actually believe that God looks at us? Yes, He does. If He knows the number of hairs on our head and knows when we sit and when we stand, He must be looking at us. Our perception of that look – the sacred gaze of God – says something about how we see Him.
How might we experience the gaze of God? Here are some possibilities:
As an invitation. The Gospels tell us that Jesus saw Matthew the tax collector and said to him, “Follow me.” I suspect that the Jews of that time would not even look at Matthew because of his work. But Jesus did. Nobody was too lowly or sinful to be looked upon by Jesus. These were exactly the people he was calling – those who needed a physician. His look and words were inviting. They said, "I want you. Come with me. I have work for you." He looks at us with an invitation. A calling to follow him. He waits patiently for us to say “yes,” and continually invites us to a deeper relationship with Him.
With encouragement, like a parent coaxing a child to jump off the diving board. Jesus looked at the woman bleeding for 12 years. She had touched the tassels of his garment and was healed. He turned to look at her and spoke words of encouragement. His eyes and words said, "Take heart!"
When we are afraid or filled with doubt, he tells us “Fear not!” He says, “With God all things are possible.” “Get out of the boat and come to me.” He looks at us with encouragement.
With delight. Matthew chapter 9 tells about the paralytic brought to Jesus by his friends. He commends the faith of the friends and looks at them with delight that they had the faith to bring their friend for healing. When we do God’s will – when we serve others – God looks at us with delight.
With a promise. The good thief on the cross (Luke 23:42-43) first mocked Jesus and then realized that He was the one they had been waiting for. He asked Jesus, "Remember me when you come into your kingdom." It may have been difficult for Jesus to raise His head while nailed to the cross. But if he didn't look with His eyes, He looked with His heart and promised, "Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise." Jesus gazes at us and reminds us of the promises He has made. Promises for an abundant life, for a lighter burden, for His presence, for the Holy Spirit. The Bible is filled with promises.
With compassion and pity. In Matthew 20:29, two blind men cry out to Jesus as he is passing by. They want to be healed. Scripture says, "Jesus in pity touched their eyes and immediately they received their sight and followed him." When Jesus fed crowds, He said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me for three days and are hungry.”
Jesus looks at us with pity when we are hungry and broken, when our bodies and souls are not right. He knows what we can be and He can heal us. His is not a worldly pity that looks down on a person. It is a compassionate pity that comes from pure love, from a desire for us to be whole. Psalm 6 says, "Have pity on me Lord for I am weak." We should desire God's pity and be grateful for it.
With sympathy. He comforts us. He calms our fears. When Mary Magdalene was weeping at the tomb, Jesus looked at her, called her by name, and comforted her in her grief. He is there with us when we are in pain and feels our pain like nobody else can. He calls us by name and comforts us.
With sadness. After Peter denies knowing Jesus three times, Jesus turns and looks at Peter as if to say, "Now we both know the truth." Before the denial, Jesus knew Peter's weakness, but Peter did not. It wasn't a look of "See I told you so." It was sadness, not that Peter had let him down, because he knew that would happen, but sadness for Peter, who felt broken for his denial. He had been so sure of himself, and now his true colors were revealed. Jesus could feel Peter's shame and pain.
Another example of the look of sadness is when Jesus lamented over Jerusalem and what was to happen there. He knew the future and mourned. I think when we sin, when we make bad choices, Jesus looks upon us with sadness because of the damage that choice will make to our bodies and souls – and to others around us. He desires only good for us, and sometimes we use our free will to choose something else.
With mercy. He said about those who crucified Him, "Father, forgive them. They know not what they do." In the midst of great suffering, Jesus asked for mercy. He looks upon us with mercy, ready to forgive all of our sins. He wants us to come to Him with a contrite heart, to confess our sins, and to ask forgiveness. He knows our sins and has so much mercy to give. His gaze says, "Ask for it. I will give it to you!"
With a warning. This is like “the look” from your mother or father – the look that says, You’re in trouble. Jesus gave that look to the Pharisees and unrepentant cities. He knew their hardness of heart and looked at them with a warning. He wants all to be saved, but sometimes we resist. God coaxes us and provides the grace, but sometimes we need a harder message. Sometimes we need the look - a warning that our souls are in danger.
A look of love. He looked with love at the woman caught in adultery. After Jesus shames the people who wanted to stone her, the Gospel of John tells us that he looked up at her. He had been writing in the dirt and looked up at her while the crowd looked down on her because of her sins. Maybe he looked up at her because she was looking down, too ashamed to meet His eyes. Jesus comes down to our level. He lifts up our face with love. In this world, people are quick to condemn someone. But Jesus told the woman that he did not condemn her. He then said, "Go and do not sin again." Jesus looked at this sinful woman with love. He looks at us, even when we are still in our sins, with love – not condemnation.
Jesus looks at us in so many ways. We may not be able to see His eyes, but we can feel the look in our hearts. Every look, delight, sadness, invitation, mercy, encouragement, sympathy, even warning – is a look of love. He loves us and desires only the best for us, which is eternal life with Him in Heaven.
God doesn’t look at us with condemnation. At least he didn’t with the woman caught in adultery or the Samaritan woman at the well. I don’t think he looks at us with disappointment, because that comes from expecting something better from a person, but God knows our weaknesses. He knows what we’re going to do. He knew Peter would deny him three times – he even warned Peter. If you only see the critical look of God, I encourage you to pray to know the look of love.
St. Therese of Lisieux said, “It’s not about looking at Him but receiving His gaze.” Do we desire to receive His gaze, or are there times when we look away? When fighting temptation, I want to look away. But that will always lead me to succumb to my weakness. In my weakness, he is strong, but I have to look at him. I have to call upon him. I have to receive His gaze.
When God looks at us with love, how do we return that look of love? Do we look back at God with love? May we be like that old farmer who spoke these words to St. Jean Vianney: I look at him and he looks at me.
Questions for prayer:
God, how do You see me today? Show me Your love for me.
Are there times when I avoid Your gaze? Help me to run to You when I am in need.